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Friday, February 25, 2011

Susana & More Spaceport Uncertainty, The 2014 Campaign (Already) And Those Other Senate Candidates 

Will Governor Martinez privatize the Spaceport? A New York Times piece says that's the plan. Rick Homans, the former executive director of the Spaceport, told the paper:

Let’s face it--privatizing the Spaceport means selling it off and trying to remove any risk to the state. The message would be that the state is not committed long term, and the new industry will look at other states where they can find a fully engaged partner.

Homans is close to Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic which has collected over $55 million from 400 hundred hopeful suborbital space tourists. Flights have not been scheduled with two years being the latest best guesstimate. Homans is indicating that keeping Virgin here will be put at risk if the Guv moves to privatize. That would essentially end the New Mexico space program.

Most of the money for the Spaceport has been put up. But the concern for southern New Mexico is that it could need a bit more and that Martinez will not support an appropriation, arguing that the Spaceport should be sold off to a private company. But that could mean a much downsized vision for the facility, not the major economic development project it was envisioned as.

Martinez said:

The Spaceport is part of the plan for economic development in New Mexico, and the voters made it clear they support it. We want to be a leader in space exploration, but we want to do it within our budget.

The Times says the Governor "has made it clear she wants any additional financing for the Spaceport to come from private industry."

That would seem to indicate that even if only a couple of million dollars in extra funding were needed to put tourists in suborbital space, Martinez would object if the money had to come from the state. That is a giant red flag. What if a private sector investor could not be found? Will the state demand that Virgin Galactic pay?

And who is Susana going to sell an untested Spaceport to? The facility's value is going to come when they light the rocket and send the first tourist into suborbital space and not until then.

The Spaceport is one of the few economic development ideas the state has on its drawing board that could make an immense difference here. But there is reason to fear that that it could be strangled in its crib.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL

The news:

Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza says she'll seek the Democratic nomination for the Public Regulation Commission seat in northern New Mexico held by fellow Democrat Jerome Block Jr. Espinoza is in her second term and term limits forbid her from seeking re-election as county clerk next year.

The analysis: Espinoza has long flirted with running for Secretary of State. Her decision to go for the PRC and apparently forgo an SOS run leaves Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver as the leading potential candidate for that far away contest in 2014. With Valerie gone, there is again room for a Hispanic Dem candidate to emerge. Republican Dianna Duran, the current SOS, was the first R elected to the position in 80 years.

THE SALARY BOOK

One of our readers has a helpful tip (and complaint):

The ABQ Journal put the entire UNM salary book on line. Now you can easily look up the salaries of the fat cats. Even associate deans are making $150,000. while we cut teaching assistant positions.

THE SENATE SCRAMBLE

Back on the Senate beat, there is an announced candidate for the GOP nomination. Greg Sowards of Las Cruces is seen as a gadfly who has sought office before. Here's what he is saying about Sen. Bingaman's retirement announcement:

I have a taste of Bingaman's vision for America. I see it in the food and gas prices, the lack of incentives for people to take risks in business, our debilitating national debt, and the creation of an out of control welfare state. Yes, we are experiencing that vision at present and we can do better, much better. So, what kind of person should replace him? I am not a candidate who sees the retirement of Jeff Bingaman as an opportunity for career advancement. Washington is full of those kinds of "servants." We must be wary of those who seek positions of power for personal gain or aggrandizement.

Bill English of Alamogordo is another below-the-radar GOP US senate candidate.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We didn't get a chance to cover the Guv's controversial PR blitz at the Roundhouse this past week, but Steve Terrell did. The Guv is still in campaign mode and she's good at it, but while it may or may not be registering with the public, the issues she is pushing--driver's licenses for illegals, voter ID, etc. are not passing. And it doesn't appear any of them will.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Thanks for popping in here this week.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pearce Fires Shot Across Heather's Bow; Calls for "Conservative" Senate Candidate And A Seat At The Table For The Tea Party, Plus: Reader Blogging 

Wilson & Pearce
Steve Pearce may not be the next United States Senator from New Mexico, but he seems determined to be the kingmaker and that is potentially devastating news for his arch political rival Heather Wilson.

In what could later be judged by history as a significant development in the 2012 GOP Senate race, the southern Republican congressman Wednesday put his head fully into the tent. He sent a letter to supporters saying the GOP needs to search for a "Conservative" candidate and should give the Tea Party a seat at the table when they do. The full letter is here.

The Tea Party is a strong force in Conservative politics that must be considered. They succeeded in defeating many incumbent Republican candidates during this last election cycle. With such a strong showing, my friends in the Tea Party should be included in the process to select a Conservative candidate who can pull that valuable block of voters to the polls.

Wilson, a former five term congresswoman, who sports "moderate" as her middle name, is the clear target of Pearce who beat Wilson for the 2008 GOP Senate nomination and in the process made her name mud with the hard-core conservatives who increasingly control the nominating wing of the state party and whom huddle under the Tea Party brand.

Pearce says he is trying to avoid a repeat of 2008 when he and Wilson both left their congressional seats to face-off for a Senate nomination. He seems to be saying both of them should retreat to the sidelines and find a new face to unite behind:

The prevailing opinion is that party leaders throughout the state need to come together and evaluate the race and take steps to avoid a repeat of the 2008 Senate race where both the candidates and the party were bruised and out of money at the end of the primary and we had no national Republican representatives.

It needs to be a full and open process to represent New Mexico. Although my name has been suggested as being on a short list of Republicans with statewide name ID, it is quite possible that a completely new face would be suggested in such a process. I have agreed to the discussion and hope all other potential Republican candidates will do the same.

WHO IS A "NEW FACE?"
Matt Chandler
And who would be that "completely new face?" Would Lt. Governor Sanchez qualify? Or do they mean someone like Matt Chandler, 37, the Clovis area district attorney who was the GOP nominee for attorney general in '08 and who scored high marks for his efforts?

And if the conservative wing can't line up a strong contender, Pearce can still hold the threat over Wilson that he will again run against her.

Whatever the outcome, the Pearce play is aimed at slowing down Wilson who insiders say has appeared to be on the verge of announcing her candidacy. She has contacted party heavyweights and told them she is all in, say several of our sources.

Wilson has the support of the old GOP establishment but Pearce is a member of the new GOP House majority in D.C. and tapped into their conservative energy. They may know that a hard-core conservative candidate may have a tough time winning in November, but winning is not everything to them--ideological purity is first and foremost.

Wilson can count on an aging former Senator Domenici, her longtime mentor, and his supporters to back her, but raising the money and engaging in another all out brawl for the nomination against a conservative contender will be punishing, to say the least. And remember, Domenici helped her last time when he was still Senator and it still wasn't enough against the hyperactive conservatives of the south.

Wilson could say "who needs it" and get out of the race and continue with a lucrative consulting career. Or she could ignore Pearce and the Tea Party and go ahead with an early announcement. Or she could even throw a curve ball and look at running for her old ABQ House seat, currently held by Dem Martin Heinrich but who may very well leave it to pursue the Dem Senate nomination.

For New Mexico and Washington Republicans it is all a giant sized migraine. The trend has been their friend in recent elections and they have a shot at this seat, but bringing all the stakeholders together is like trying to negotiate Middle East peace.

Democrats finally have something to smile about.

BIG BILL'S JOB


You may have heard about Big Bill's new job, but it doesn't sound as if it will be taking up all his time. He will still be in Santa Fe watching Susana do his old job.

Gov. Richardson will continue his speech-making activities and plans to serve on nonprofit and for profit boards. The Governor will keep his home base in New Mexico but will also have an office at APCO's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Richardson was named chairman of APCO Worldwide's executive advisory service Global Political Strategies (GPS). It provides counsel to companies and institutions as they globalize their activities.

THE TOP TIER

Reader and former ABQ Dem City Councilor Miguel Gomez writes of the US Senate race:

I think you may be mistaken by not placing State
Auditor Balderas in the top tier of Dem candidates to replace Sen. Bingaman.

Hector Balderas has won two statewide races, by very healthy margins. In 2006 he won with 54% of the vote and in 2010, when the political environment for Democrats in the state was extremely difficult, he won by 55% of the vote - the second-largest margin for Dems (second only to State Treasurer James Lewis). Hector has wide appeal among different geographic regions, winning 21 counties in 2006 and 20 counties in 2010 – including some in the most conservative regions of the state. Neither of the “top tier” candidates has even competed in a statewide race.


The top tier candidates we designated for the '12 Dem Senate nod are Congressmen Heinrich and Lujan. We also had email from supporters of Diane Denish who also felt Di belonged in the top tier.

Okay, let's put them all in the top tier and let 'em fight it out.

And another reader writes:

Joe, You just created a new political term - "the anti-Heather." That's a hoot.

Former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson is considering a run for the GOP US Senate nod. Lt. Governor John Sanchez is one of the presumed "Anti-Heathers" but has not yet made any announcements regarding his intentions.

ROUGHING HIM UP

National Republicans aren't wasting any time roughing up Heinrich in anticipation of a Senate run. They came with this robo call criticizing his recent vote against a short-term budget bill approved by House R's. That bill would cut spending, including funding for the state's national labs, one reason Heinrich says he voted against the measure which is now being considered by the US Senate.

GOP Congressman Steve Pearce voted for the R's budget measure. We asked his office if he isn't concerned that the bill cuts funding for Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs. He responded:

I am familiar with both Sandia and Los Alamos Labs and their importance to the state and nation. I do not think there is a mood to cut defense, security or the National Labs but I and my staff will be in contact with the Labs as the appropriations bills work their way through the process.

THE ROBLES BUST

On blog coverage of the DWI bust of NM Court of Appeals Judge Robert Robles, reader and onetime TV news reporter Edward Calabaza writes:

I couldn't agree more with the lawyer in your blog who wrote, "...he should place himself into Drug Court ...I am all for second chances-but you have to pay your dues first. Then you ask forgiveness. Then you work to get your life in real order."

I am a past DWI offender and graduate of Metro Drug Court. Getting my DWI is the best thing that ever happened to me. It was the "wake-up call" I needed. It got me into Drug Court and finally got me sober after 28 years of heavy drinking.

It hasn't been easy and I am still working to gain people's trust and lose the negative stigma that is attached with my DWI. But now that I am sober I have more energy, I'm more focused and I'm doing quality work in my p.r./media consulting business. I pray that the Judge Robles can find the solace I have by accepting responsibility for what he's done.

Judge Robles has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the DWI investigation. There has been media and public pressure for him to resign.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lunch Buddies: Sanchez-Bradley Schmooze Gets Them Talking As US Senate Race Positioning Continues, Plus: Readers Get In On PIO's Gone Wild 

Bradley & Sanchez
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at that lunch meeting between Lt. Governor John Sanchez and former Lt. Governor Walter Bradley that had the capitol buzzing. The two GOP heavyweights were spotted nestled in a corner of the Rio Chama across from the Roundhouse as speculation swirled across the state and (and in Washington) over whether we are headed for another epic Republican duel for a US Senate nomination. This time it could feature Sanchez and Heather Wilson, the battle-scarred former ABQ congresswoman who tenaciously holds to her decade long hope of following in the foot steps of her mentor, Senator Pete Domenici.

The political drama is the result of last week's surprise announcement by Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman that he would retire in 2012.

So what did Bradley, now a top dairy industry lobbyist, and Sanchez talk about? Well, we don't think it was the price of milk. These two have a long and sometimes bitter history. It was Sanchez--with the help of GOP consultant Jay McCleskey--who nuked the snot out of Bradley in 2002. That's when Sanchez triumphed over the onetime Clovis state senator to secure the GOP Guv nomination. Sanchez went on to to lose to Bill Richardson, but there were deep wounds, although Sanchez and McCleskey, now Governor Martinez's chief political adviser, have since parted ways. Now John and Walter have something in common, don't they?

Could Walter support John for Senate? Or was he telling John to step aside for Heather? Or was he just wanting to stay close to both sides? Whatever the case, Sanchez appears to be prepping for a run. If he goes in Wilson may be in for another race of her life--but this time it could spell the end of her political life. You don't lose two Senate nominations and get a shot at a third.

The Alligators report that while Bradley and Sanchez were having their lunchtime pow wow, Wilson was working the phones, contacting the pooh-bahs in the state GOP and preparing for a campaign launch. Republicans nervously await resolution of the potential Wilson and Sanchez candidacies. The Pearce-Wilson face-off had dreadful consequences for them. They lost the Senate seat and two congressional seats when the two went at each other.

The latest action also includes a Sunday night Tea Party conference call out of Hobbs where Wilson supporter and former NM GOP Chairman Allen Weh tried to persuade those on the line that Heather was more conservative than they give her credit for. But Hispanic Republicans like Sanchez are all the rage these days and the tea timers dance to their own tune. Their search for the anti-Heather is hard to inhibit. They drew blood on Wilson in '08, and their sword is again ready to plunge. Is Sanchez the one who will carry it in 2012? Stay tuned. This thing is just getting fun.

A DEAL?


We don't get the vibe that either the Guv or the Dems in the Legislature want a big battle over the budget. From the wires:

House Speaker Ben Lujan says lawmakers are trying to reach a compromise with Republican Gov. Martinez on the budget and trimming the state's film incentives. Lujan said a proposal is being developed to limit the subsidies provided yearly for film production in the state. There also could be restrictions on the type of film expenditures that qualify for a tax break. Money saved from film subsidy changes could be used to meet the governor's objections to a proposed state budget.

Like Martinez, House liberals want fewer cuts to the education budget than are currently proposed. But they also support the 25% film rebate program that Martinez wants to trim to 15%.

Martinez could take the above compromise, combined with a bill to make the rebate program more transparent and also back an interim committee to study the matter and declare victory.

Or she could draw a line in the sand and pretend this is Wisconsin. But what would be the point? The film incentives are tied to job creation which is the number one issue in the state and an issue this Governor has talked little about in her brief time at the helm.

The financial stakes here are Lilliputian--about $25 million in a $5.4 billion budget. Is it worth going to the mattresses over that? Any tax break could be deemed "pivotal" or a "deal breaker," including those for the oil and gas industry that Martinez considers sacrosanct. She and her rural Republican base have made their point. But really people, let's make a deal already.

TOUGH LOVE

This could be the start of something big, if Santa Fe gives it a chance:

A bill designed to bring an end to social promotion will be heard by the House Education Committee today. It would require 3rd, 5th and 8th grade students to be proficient in reading before passing to the next grade. “This is absolutely essential to changing the culture of education in our state,” said Rep. Nora Espinoza (Roswell, Dist. 59). “For years we have invested funds into the system and now we need results.”

The money line from Espinoza is "changing the culture of education." Or substitute "expectations" for the word culture.

THE DEDE TAPES


There was a notable level of discomfort at a recent meeting of the state Senate Public Affairs Committee as described in a newsletter from Sen. Dede Feldman, the ABQ Dem who chairs the panel:

(In a committee meeting) where several DWI bills that the Governor is supporting were presented, her staff appeared with little cameras in hand to tape the proceedings. They did not ask permission from the Chair (me), which is protocol, so I am cynical about how they intend to use the material. I’m a great fan of opening committee hearings to the news media, but this felt different. Since the staffers did not speak to me, I do not know how they intend to use the footage, but several present felt it was intimidation, meant to remind Senators that their comments would be used in campaign ads next year. Hmm.

Well, the new administration does often seem to be in campaign mode---make that permanent campaign mode.

PIO'S GONE WILD (CONT.)

Our continuing coverage of PIO's gone wild brings this from reader Jim McClure:

Joe, I agree that a budget cut for the public information office at ABQ Public Schools (and other government agencies) would be good public relations. In fact, the heads of those offices are missing an opportunity by not proposing cuts on their own.

During my 20 years in corporate public relations, cutbacks were a normal part of the business cycle. Functions such as newsletters and web design are easy to outsource...As a PR manager I always had two mental lists: a wish list of ways to expand, and a hit list of programs and positions I could eliminate...Big cuts actually are healthier than small ones because they force the organization to set priorities and clean house. Government PIO's who have never worked in the private sector may not know how to manage this way. The best solution for them may be to invest in a communications audit by an outside PR firm....


And here's another one from a reader of long PR experience and now toiling in the newsroom:

Gov. Martinez's huffing and puffing about the cost of government PR overlooks the decline of what was once at least a semi-honorable profession. When I was a City Hall PIO, the job was considered public service. If a reporter called, you hooked him or her up with a knowledgeable person who would speak on the record, and then you got out of the way. Generally, bureaucrats didn't live in fear of their jobs as long as they stuck to the facts. Now from the governor's office on down, the PIO is on a short leash. The job is to stay on the political message and the public is ill-served not by the expense of public information but by the shortage of credible public information. The media are complicit, of course, in often settling for these handouts as the easy way to meet deadlines.

DATELINE JUAREZ

Where are the great diplomats of our time? Year after year of this only minutes from our doorstep and still no decisive American leadership?

Fifty-three people were killed in a 72-hour span in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, making it one of the deadliest three-day periods in recent memory, state attorney general's office spokesman Arturo Sandoval told CNN Sunday. Among the dead were four police officers from three different agencies, Sandoval said. "This is the worst violence we've seen this year," he said, referring to the three days from Thursday through Saturday.

Is it too outlandish to speak of American military intervention or is this slaughter and government destabilization now accepted in Washington as the permanent state of affairs?

And then there's the issue of keeping this mayhem from crossing our own state border:

While New Mexico’s neighbors to the east and west are cracking down on border crossings, Target 7 has learned that the Land of Enchantment is cutting back on agents who patrol the border. The drugs, crime and criminals that start at the border may end up in your backyard, border security members said.

“The individuals that do get passed us and come through our county do end up in Albuquerque,” border security deputy Gary Lassiter said.

Federal budget cuts have reduced the National Guard presence on the border from 130 to 30. The Guv and Senator Bingaman are aware of it.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Name Game: Heinrich House Seat Suddenly In Play, Plus: Humbling Hanna; Education Lobby Strikes, And: Alligators To John Sanchez: Show Us The Money 

Time for the name game for the ABQ congressional seat. Expectations are that Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich will eventually announce he is indeed seeking the 2012 US Senate nomination, putting his House seat up for grabs. Who are the players? Let's kick if off with the D's.

Dem State Rep. Al Park is on most lists. He's indicated he would like to run for the Public Regulation Commission in '12, but if Heinrich leaves, expect Park to change direction and seek the seat.

New Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham ran against Heinrich for the Dem nomination in 2008 and lost. If he leaves, the odds are she will be back for a second try next year.

Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks is also on the list of lookers. His second term on the commission ends next year. Former ABQ Public Safety Director Pete Dinelli could make a go of it, but isn't of a mind to. He's eyeing the 2013 ABQ mayoral race.

State Senator Tim Keller is also toying with the idea of running for ABQ Mayor in 2013, but an open slot in the US House will get his attention. Put him on the list, even though he would have to give up his ABQ SE Heights senate seat to make the House bid. Ditto for Senator Eric Griego.

How about Lawrence Rael who ran for Lt. Governor last year? He's available.

Diane Denish says she wants to look at the Senate race, but she could also make a splash as a US House candidate.

He lost it in '96 but attorney and former NM Dem Party chair John Wertheim could make a run of it, but he says attorney general in '14 is on his mind.

On the Republican side, the Alligators are already speculating about a possible battle for the GOP House nomination between ABQ City Councilor Dan Lewis and Jon Barela, now the state economic development secretary who lost to Heinrich in a close race last year. Lewis has already formed an exploratory committee. Will Susana let Jon run? And what about Janice Arnold-Jones? The former state rep has weighed a House run in the past. Maybe she takes a look.

State Senator Kent Cravens probably won't, but he could.

If Heinrich hops to the Senate, there will be more names surfacing, but the ones listed here should keep the conversation going over today's enchilada lunch.

HUMBLING HANNA
Skandera
There's nearly zero chance that the nomination of Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera will be rejected by the state Senate, but Majority Leader Sanchez sent her a message by questioning whether she meets the Constitutional qualifications for the office. You need to be a "qualified, experienced educator." Skandera isn't a teacher, but she is an an administrator.

Skandera and the Guv are upsetting the educational apple cart, especially the way Susana has been pushing for bureaucratic cost savings at ABQ public schools. Is that one reason for the push against Skandera?

If so, maybe the Guv ought to talk to the secretary about that proposal to split up APS into two manageable districts. That might make for a good coffee conversation between the Guv, Senate Leader Sanchez and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Linda Lopez, where Skandera's nomination will first go. The last we we looked, the state secretary of education has the power to create a new school district when she decides it is in the public interest.

ED POWER


The education lobby remains strong in Santa Fe. One of of our Senior Alligators monitoring the Roundhouse action has the latest:

House Democrats had a three hour caucus Monday afternoon. Expect changes in the state budget approved Friday by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee before it wins final House approval. Speaker Lujan is making deals with some of his Dems to get the votes he needs to avoid dealing with the Republicans. One of the key changes appears to be to lessen the cuts to the public school budget.

There are 36 Dems, 33 R's and one independent in the House. A majority is 35 so the speaker needs to hold just about all his Dems to avoid having to ask for GOP support.

The proposed $5.4 billion budget for the year that begins July 1 contains about a 2 percent cut to public education which is slated to receive $2.4 billion. But there is fierce resistance to even that small of a cut, as Martinez found out when she challenged the APS bureaucracy.

The public might agree with the Guv that a bloated $500,000 APS PR budget is ripe for the pruning as well as other administrative costs, but the education lobby in Santa Fe, led in part by Dem State Reps. Rick Miera and Mimi Stewart, don't seem to hear them. Why not?

WHERE'S THE CHIEF?


When the ABQ police officers union gave Public Safety Director Darren White that vote of no confidence last week, it put Chief Ray Schultz in a touchy situation, but reader Dan Klein points out the chief seemed to be able to stay under the radar:

Weird (or crazy like a fox) how Chief Schultz is not mentioned at all in the APOA no confidence vote. You would think some reporter would try to get a comment from him. Or maybe they did and he is ducking for cover?

Schultz is the first police chief to answer to the city's public safety director instead of the chief administrative officer.

SANCHEZ MONEY

Since his personal wealth is central to the thesis that Lt. Governor John Sanchez would make a potentially strong candidate for the GOP US Senate nomination, Alligators want to know more. They note that at the end of 2010, he reported that he has nearly $300,000 in debt from his Light Guv run. However, just about all of it is personal loans that the roofing company owner doesn't have to pay back. He also reports $133,000 in cash which he can't use on a federal race.

How are Sanchez's personal bank books? Are they flush enough to self-finance a large portion of a Senate primary campaign? They were when he ran for Light Guv. Stay tuned.

By the way, Sanchez is no longer a North Valley resident as we blogged yesterday. He moved to the far NE Heights several years ago. We were thinking back to 2000, when he upset Speaker Raymond Sanchez for a legislative seat which included the North Valley.

ASSIGNMENT DESK

Can we take over the assignment desk at the Las Cruces Sun-News for a couple of minutes?

Will they please tell us exactly what this statement from Governor Martinez regarding the development of the Spaceport means:

New Mexico's taxpayers have made a significant investment in the spaceport project. It's time to see the project through to completion by bringing in private funding.

Does that mean if additional private funding is not forthcoming and the Spaceport needs more state funding that it won't be completed?

The paper's editors were effusive in their praise of Martinez's handling of the Spaceport, and she did move quickly to fill the vacancies she created when she dismissed the entire Spaceport board. But her quote above hangs over the project and no one seems to know what it means or its potential consequences. Can the paper check it out?

Okay, we're off the desk....

THE LAWYERS

How many lawyers are there in the Legislature? According to ABQ District Court Judge Allan Malott, who pushed back against a reader who claimed attorneys in the Legislature have made life easy for the judiciary, there are "a half dozen or so." But reader Liska pushes back on the push back. She says:

Maybe Judge Malott needs $$$$$ for a law clerk to do research. He tells you there are "only about a half dozen" lawyers in the Legislature. There are 14.


Malott continues to pound the table against possible cuts to the judiciary during this legislative session, but readers continue to push back.


ROBE LESS


A reader, an attorney, writes of the aggravated DWI bust of NM Court of Appeals Judge Robert Robles:

Robles should be Robe Less! He should voluntarily take the most stringent of the DWI punishments, or he should place himself into Drug Court (NM has one of the best drug courts in the country). He should be held to a higher standard. I am all for second chances-but you have to pay your dues first. Then you ask forgiveness. Then you work to get your life in real order.

Robles was suspended without pay by the state Supreme Court. The suspension will continue as the Judicial Standards Commission investigates and until the conclusion of the criminal case against the judge. After that, we will find out if the commission recommends that the high court should remove the judge for good.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Race To The Senate: Who's In The Top Tier? The Second Tier? Wild Cards? Plus: First Polling Bumps Heinrich, And: Not All Happy With Jeff Decision 

Top Tier: Heinrich, Lujan, Wilson & Sanchez
A flash poll in the aftermath of Senator Bingaman's surprise retirement announcement could put ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich in the driver's seat for the 2012 Democratic Senate nomination--if it is backed up by other surveys expected soon. Now the wait is underway for Heinrich to start the engine and begin what will be a risky race for the power and glory of the upper chamber of the American government. Meanwhile, recent Republican election success is buoying party hopes that the Senate seat could be theirs. We begin with the Dems.

Heinrich was careful not to step on Jeff's big day, but now that the dust has settled he came with this Sunday statement only a bit shy of a formal entry:

Together with my wife Julie, I plan to actively consider running. Jeff Bingaman and I share a passionate concern for this great state and its people, and my decision will be based on whether I believe I can best serve New Mexico in the House or in the Senate."


An automatic phone poll conducted among 1200 likely Democratic voters hours after Bingaman made his Friday afternoon announcement had Heinrich leading a field of nine potential Dem candidates. He scored 26%, with 2010 Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish garnering 17%. The seven others were back in the pack.

Among those trailing was northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. However, the poll up (intentionally or unintentionally) mispronounced Lujan's name and that could have skewed the results.

The poll was conducted by a political operative unaffiliated with Heinrich or Lujan and is offered up with the proverbial grain of salt.

However, irrespective of any polling, Heinrich is rapidly emerging as the strongest potential nominee in the political parlors where the conventional wisdom is set. His ability to raise the massive amounts of money needed to run the race is nearly universally mentioned by political veterans of all stripes. Political pros expect his formal entry will not be immediate, but neither will it be months.

HEINRICH AND LUJAN

A Heinrich-Lujan Senate primary is not looking likely but it is seen as a potential debacle for the Dems. They would then have to defend two open US House seats and the Senate primary winner could be severely damaged by a bloody battle. How it should be avoided is Topic A on the lips of top Democrats here and in Washington.

Polling will be key. My top sources say the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) can be expected to try to exercise discipline over the two congressmen. If their polling shows Heinrich as the best general election nominee, they could try to clear the field for him. They could do that by directing resources and money his way. The same goes for Lujan.

Insiders believe Heinrich appears much more ready than Lujan to make the leap. Ben Ray's visibility on re-election to his safe House seat is unlimited. There is the hope that he can someday become a major player there. Also, at 38, Lujan can wait for a better Senate opportunity when his political muscle is stronger.

By consolidating the Hispanic vote in a one-on-one primary against Heinrich, Lujan could win the nomination, but his general election prospects are seen as more problematic than Heinrich who has superior strength in the key ABQ metro.

If Lujan doesn't make the run, the road would be cleared for another Hispanic candidate to challenge Heinrich's right to the nomination. But the bench is not all that deep and the money needed to make such a challenge represents a hurdle. However, in Lujan's absence, a credible Hispanic challenge to Heinrich can't be ruled out.

BALDERAS KNOCKING

State Auditor Hector Balderas was not included in the automatic phone survey, but he is saying he is likely to run. He joins the second tier waiting for the feet of Heinrich and Lujan to drop. The early move by Balderas was read by one of our Senior Alligators as a sign that progressives in the Dem Party may be looking to stall Heinrich's momentum. In recent years Heinrich has adopted more centrist politics then he did as a progressive darling serving on the ABQ City Council.

For Balderas and all the second tier candidates below Heinrich and Lujan, the longshot hope is that the two congressmen decide to sit the Senate race out and their chances soar as a result. The odds on both staying out? The Alligators put that at about 25 to 1 against.

Balderas is fresh off a re-election win, but faces hurdles in Washington in trying to jump so high from his unheralded post, especially now that Heinrich's entry looms. Those hurdles include experience, money, name ID, and a record to run on. But testing the waters can't hurt and then there's that attorney general race in 2014. Then again, you don't want to look all wet.

THE WILD CARDS

How about a wild card candidate, like a wealthy businessman with the organizing skills to win a major party primary? In 1994, Republican Gary Johnson fit that profile and won the race for governor. Is there a rich gal or guy lurking in the background and thinking their time is now? Or how about someone famous? In 1976, astronaut Jack Schmitt, a moonwalker, burst on the state political scene and took down Dem US Senator Joe Montoya.

Money and fame may not guarantee personal happiness, but they do open the doors of politics. Let's see if anyone walks through them.

MORE FROM THE POLL

Other Democrats included in that robo call poll of Dems were Attorney General Gary King, former Attorney General Patricia Madrid, former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, State Dem Party Chairman Javier Gonzales, former Dem Lt. Gov. nominee Brian Colon and Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks.

Heinrich's statewide approval rating was 47%, with 23% disapproving. His approval rating in his own ABQ area congressional district was 68%. Diane Denish had a 53% statewide approval rating, with 30% disapproving. Remember, this was an all-Democratic survey.

THE ELEPHANT MARCHES

And what of the Republicans? Will Congressman Steve Pearce stay out of the battle for the GOP Senate nod, making former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson the automatic front runner and avoiding a rematch of their 2008 Senate duel which Pearce won? And what of other possible players?

The chess board here is very much like that of the Dems. Everyone waits for the two heavies to make their move and then the second tier will then know where it stands.

Pearce will be 65 in 2012. That's seen as too old to start a Senate career in a state that prizes seniority. Also, he lost his '08 Senate race to Dem Tom Udall in a landslide. For now, let's say Steve takes a pass.

That leaves Wilson, 50, who was tarnished in '08 when she lost the GOP US Senate primary to Pearce. Former NM GOP Chairman Edward Lujan told an interviewer after Jeff's announcement:

I spoke to Heather on Friday night and she sure sounded like a candidate.

But Heather could be in for another major primary challenge if she decides to run and if her numerous foes in the hard-core conservative wing of her party get their way.

WILSON VS. SANCHEZ?

Lt. Governor John Sanchez, fresh from his victory with Guv Martinez, is being urged to make the run for the Bingaman seat. His supporters agree he may not have the intellectual pedigree of Wilson who has an Oxford Ph.D, but they say he has the campaign skills, the personal money and the statewide name ID. They also argue he does not have the negatives Heather carries. They add that a Hispanic Republican is the right demographic fit for a 21st century US Senate candidate.

But the recent PPP poll showed Sanchez polling a very anemic 4% against Heather's 35% in a mock-up of a GOP US Senate primary.

At 48, Sanchez is the right age and wealthy from his roofing business. If he runs and loses, he would still be Lt. Governor. That term runs through 2014. He is a native Hispanic in a state that hasn't had an Hispanic US Senator since Joe Montoya was defeated for re-election in 1976. That could help Sanchez as Martinez's quest to become the first female Hispanic Governor helped her. But it is his money that puts the Light Guv into the top tier. A primary battle with Wilson could cost as much as $2 million. He can write the check.

Could Sanchez position himself as more conservative than Wilson--as Pearce did--and take the prize from her? He'll have to pass some authenticity checks. The ABQ resident is not perceived as all that conservative.

Wilson does have high negatives, but if she announces for the Senate could they recede somewhat because of her superior knowledge of national security and defense issues? Wouldn't those credentials stand out in a field that lacks anyone else of similar depth? And wouldn't she "kick ass and take names" in any TV debates with Sanchez? And don't forget all her years of campaign experience compared to Sanchez as well as her demonstrated commitment to the national labs and defense industry here.

Wilson, who held the ABQ congressional seat for 10 years, would like to have the field cleared for her, but who is to do the clearing? The GOP has an active Tea Party wing and appears too juiced up not to have at least two major primary players.

Even in the unlikely even of both Sanchez and Wilson stepping away, there are plenty of names that would rise to the surface. They all would be thinking the same thought: "Why not me?"

LONG KNIVES FOR JEFF
Sen. Chavez
There will be plenty of tributes--deservedly so--paid to Senator Bingaman's five terms in the Senate, but as with all things political, there is a flip side.
The long knives have come out on Bingaman, who became the state's senior Senator in 2009. The reason? He won't stay and carry on the legacy established by Senators Chavez, Anderson and Domenici in protecting the massive federal funding that comes into the state. An email from a Senior Alligator sums up this gripe:

Two years as senior senator with its opportunities and obligations to bring home the bacon to NM was enough for Jeff and his staff. They are known as intelligent, pleasant, genuinely nice people. (Former GOP senior Senator Pete) Domenici and his staff reveled in senior senator status and all the opportunities the seniority brings.

Pete's staff were renowned for their aggressive manner, getting projects and programs for NM and taking credit for everything. Jeff and his people quietly achieved through the accumulation of seniority and respect. In the last two years they asserted themselves and delivered for the national labs and New Mexico. I think they were drained by the effort.

Many New Mexicans expected Jeff and his staff to muscle and elbow their way into delivering money for their projects in the same way Pete did. Jeff had to be aware and pressured by this comparison. Initially, Jeff even avoided going after earmarks that benefited the district. Though admirable from the point of view of process, it didn't deliver the bacon to petitioning constituents.


I am sure all this played no small part in his decision to retire. The loss of Pete and Jeff's seniority will have a profound effect on the economy of New Mexico. But two years of the obligation of senior senator was more than enough for Jeff.

The Senate giants who preceded Jeff no doubt cast a long shadow. But he showed he could play at their level by recently helping to get stellar funding deals for Los Alamos and Sandia Labs that will extend several years out.

Ex-Senator Domenici, who served a record-setting 36 years, said he thought Bingaman is leaving in part because he was frustrated over the gridlock in the Senate. He noted that Jeff is chairman of the Senate energy committee, but in recent years could not forge an agreement on an energy bill.

It seemed to me, knowing about what is going on the Senate, that his life has become frustrating, to say the least--he may not say that, but I think it was...His committee did good work and didn't get a chance to present it because other things took precedent.

Is Bingaman's retirement selfish? Hardly. He will have served 30 years when his time is up. That is yeoman's service. But is there any truth to the argument that the yoke of being senior senator did not settle well on the shoulders of Bingaman as he also wrestled with a more rancorous Senate?

Former NM Governor Gary Johnson says one of the reasons he will not seek to replace Bingaman is because the job of a New Mexico senator is primarily to bring home the pork and he could not stand that. He's right about the job description. After years of delivering, maybe Jeff Bingaman found he had a touch of Gary Johnson in him.

THE IRONY

How about this: When Senator Jeff Bingaman announced Friday that he would be retiring from the Senate he did so at the Hotel Andaluz (the old Hilton) in downtown ABQ. And what was the name of the room where he made that announcement? It was the "Martin J. Chavez Library," named after the former ABQ Mayor who briefly sought the Dem US Senate nomination in 2008.
Maybe Marty will take that as a sign from above that he needs to run to replace Jeff.

THE YEAR WAS 1982
Joe Monahan
I was kicking around Santa Fe then, having signed up for a radio news gig as well as covering the Roundhouse for a string of stations around the state. Come November, it was time for Election Night. I wasn't all that high on it because it was not in the middle of the action in ABQ or on a larger outlet. But being an unabashed political junkie I made the best of it and put together the coverage for the big night by signing up Dem Santa Fe District Court Judge Michael Francke, a guy who was as quirky as he was brilliant.

The polls closed and we dived into the results with relish, especially the US Senate race featuring Attorney General Jeff Bingaman and Republican Senator Jack Schmitt. It soon became clear that Bingaman was going to take the seat. Out of the blue, Francke, who was a close friend to Jeff, told me during a break that he was going to get him on the phone right then and there. This was early in the evening and I told Michael that there was no way Bingaman was going to come on our somewhat obscure radio station and accept victory before he had even appeared on TV.

Francke was undeterred, dialed the hotel number for Bingaman and before my jaw could drop he was talking live on the air with Bingaman who accepted Francke's congratulations as they chatted like two blood brothers.

When the conversation was over I resumed the anchoring chores, but not before looking over at Francke who had a frat boy smile on his face and a triumphant gleam in his eye. I was 27 years old and had been around the bend a few times, but it was only then that I realized that whether reporting to 500 or 5 million, the joy of the scoop propels you to the same lofty heights.

The year was 1982. I was there and that's how I remember it.

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